So let’s start with a basic overview of our biology of our brains. It is helpful for you to know this because then you will understand where a lot of our cravings for food come from and why we do what we do sometimes.
Essentially our brain has 4 parts – and my hand will represent this. This is an example given by Dr Daniel Siegel and it is a great tool.
On my hand you can see my wrist, this represents the old part of our brain called the spinal cord. Then there is my lower palm, which represents the brain stem, sometimes called the reptilian brain as it evolved very early on and its role is to look after the basic needs of life like your breathing, heart and bodily functions. My thumb represents the limbic system, sometimes called the mammalian brain which is where our short term emotions and desires come from. Its role is to take us towards pleasure and away from pain. And finally my fingers represent our cortex which is highly developed in humans. Our cortex is responsible for our rational, clear thinking mind and problem solving. It allows us to plan long term, to be sensible about what we doing, make decisions thoughtfully and rationally.
It is important to understand in the environment our brain and bodies evolved in to understand why these brain parts do different things. The environment that humans evolved in there was not a lot a of food, so our brain’s limbic systems role was to seek high calorie foods, sweet and fatty foods, that would help us survive. Where as our higher brain’s cortex helped us remember where those foods were and problem solve and plan to find them again in the future. So in a harsh environment these helped us survive. Great. But the difficulty now is our modern environments are not like those in the past. In some countries now we have an overabundance of high calorie food that is low in nutrient value yet our brains is wired to seek that food. So the brainstem and limbic system are constantly driving us to seek and be rewarded for more and more food, more facebook, more pleasure etc, but this leads to excess and disease.
To put it simply, different parts of our brain can work together but some actually work against each other in some ways. Specifically for weight loss, our higher cortex brain which is long term and rational says “let’s eat well and plan our meals, and I will be happy and lose weight”, but the limbic system, my thumb, is where our emotions, desires, cravings and fears come from and can say if we are under stress or in emotional states “no, we are under stress and we must survive so eat high calorie food now” which makes you feel strong cravings. We can learn to override these messages from the limbic system and think more with our higher brain cortex region, but we do have to learn it as it will not come that naturally to many of us. And that is where internal reflection and study, a health coach or a psychologist may help you.
So now you understand why you have those thoughts like cravings, it is natural biology in an environment that no longer matches it. So don’t judge yourself for having cravings because we all do. But rather now you understand this, we can try to problem solve it.
Further resource: Dan Siegel’s “Brain hand model” on YouTube